Asia’s largest mall is ready for it’s inauguration. And it’s got to go well. There have been various accidental deaths in the mall and the owners are tired of stories about the mall being haunted. A retired solider named Vishnu is hired as the mall’s chief of security, and during the mall’s inaugural party, must work to solve the mystery behind the supernatural occurrences before the death toll starts rising.
Billy: Somewhat unexpectedly, Darr @ the Mall was a damn good time. I think because, honestly, I had no idea what to expect from it in the first place. We first watched this film long before decided to feature it in 31 Spooky Nights, during an impulse Netflix binge of any odd film we could find. I don’t think we even realized this was a Bollywood film until the subtitles came up. The best part about this was that the sort of structure I’m familiar with for a standard horror movie was almost entirely absent, truly giving me something new to keep me on the edge of my seat. I’ll admit to just being underexposed to a lot of foreign films, and if anyone wants to recommend me more, I’ll check them out. But that lack of familiarity gave me a special experience. Being able to watch Darr @ the Mall without knowing where it was going to go was a fantastic way to start off this adventure.
Amelia: I went into Darr @ the Mall expecting a shitty American horror that would centre around like, the Mall of America and kids on Twitter because of the @ symbol, or some equally as unappealing shit. Then the subtitles came in and I was like “OMG this might actually be good now!”. Seriously. Going from believing this was American made to finding out it was an international release made me so thrilled! I love non-American horror: it offers something different from the usually uninspired American fare of over-filtered close-ups that lead into jump scares.
Was Darr @ the Mall the best thing I’ve ever seen? No, not really. But it was super compelling for what it was for the two hours that it played on Netflix.
Billy: The film is set in Amity Mall. Amity, as you know, means friendship, and if you got that Jaws reference, there’s a lot you’ll recognize about the first act of this film. You see, there’s a ghost haunting Amity Mall, and people have been killed. Vishnu, the new chief of security, warns the owner that they should close the mall before it opens, but he’s not listening. The opening will go as planned. I love the use of that narrative here. It’s only used during the first act and changes into something different as the film goes on, but really. Jaws with a ghost instead of a shark? I’m in.
There’s a history of using malls in horror films, especially with both versions of Dawn of the Dead commenting on capitalism and consumerism in daily life. And yeah, you could argue there’s a moral about greed in here, but where Darr @ the Mall really shines is in how it uses the physical space of the mall so well conceptually. It takes those wide open hallways and stores and juxtaposes them against crowded back rooms you’re not supposed to see. It uses the size of the mall itself as a way to tell multiple storylines happening at once without them crossing over and to give an amazing variety to the types of locations it’s able to showcase, like a security office or an ice rink.
The use of the mall even lends itself to the structure of Darr @ the Mall being different than American horror films, in that it sets itself up as a series of vignettes all living in the same space. Vishnu is our throughline between all the events, but he’s not integral to every plot, for instance. It’s like having all those stores under one roof, all the stories get to live @ the Mall.
Amelia: I think what I actually ended up liking most about this movie was how unsubtle it all is. When it comes to horror, you should usually shoot for subtle because what your audience can imagine is happening is a helluva lot scarier than anything you can show them. But Darr @ the Mall was like “I see what you’re saying with subtlety and it’s a thought. Here’s another: all the tropes, all at face value, all at once!” This movie knows you were coming here for horror, so here is everything they can think to give you at full volume for the next two hours of your life.
Take the ghost as the best example of this. This is a pretty unsubtle ghost. Right of the bat it’s opening doors, taking the form of children, physically attacking people, leaving handprints, appearing on camera, and flat out talking to people in full on sentences of back and forth dialogue! And this isn’t a ghost like Sixth Sense had Bruce Willis as a ghost and it’s a big reveal at the end; this is flat out a ghostly nun that’s got smoke curling around her and embers burning behind her eyes!
Something else that I love about this movie but would hate in any other piece of horror media is the soundtrack. It is an often jarring mix of instruments and tunes and, because this is Bollywood, there’s a highly choreographed dance/song number by an Indian pop star that is literally just a music video dropped right into the middle of all the spooky action.
That is pulled right from the movie. The song is bubbly and about pina coladas. I couldn’t make this shit up if I tried!
As for the non-Bollywood soundtrack, how unnatural and jarring it seems through the progression of the horror actually ends up fitting perfectly. I can’t speak of the musical direction of other Indian horror movies, but Darr @ the Mall is perfect! The plucked strings that are reminiscent of classic American horror, the sweeping, dramatic orchestral moments for instant atmosphere, the distortion of the music coming from the girl’s iPod – it’s so good! And that fairly cheesy pop song right in the middle of it? Hell, I even love that too! I’m jamming to Pinacolada as I write this!
Billy: Visually, there’s an immense amount of craft going into the look of Darr @ the Mall. Even just from the trailer, you can see the use of strong, saturated colours standing out amongst the darkness. This film thrives in shades of black, but because of the setting, pops with garish colour as well. What’s lit is overlit, fluorescent, and neon. It uses these public spaces and turns them to be co-opted by the forces of darkness.
I wish I had thought to be more critical of specific visual motifs while watching it, but you know what? I just really had a good time. I was enthralled and enjoyed the movie so much more than I thought I would. Its lore is set up in some basic tropes of an orphanage burning down and Vishnu being connected, the same sort of stuff I rolled my eyes at in something like Alone in the Dark, but it doesn’t feel tired here. It’s all put together so well that it feels fresh. There’s no doubt that I’ll come back to Darr @ the Mall later with fresh eyes and give it even more thought.
Amelia: The biggest thing that bothered me while I watched Darr @ the Mall is definitely the pacing. The story revolves around a man named Vishnu and a group of four young adults whose fathers own the mall where all this spooky stuff is happening. The movie doesn’t mesh them altogether until about the hour mark. For that first hour it just sort of cuts back and forth between Vishnu’s storyline, and the four children’s storylines. And the beginning of the movie? You know how Lord of the Rings ends like, eight different times but then keeps going with more? Darr @ the Mall opens about eight different times before you get into a narrative that feels continuous.
Darr @ the Mall scooped out a shit tonne onto their plate at the horror buffet and then was forced to eat it all by a parent telling them not to waste what they took. Even at two hours the movie felt overstuffed with tropes and ideas. I think another pass at the screenplay and then a harsher editing job could have compacted the film into something a little cleaner.
Billy: Seven and a half nuns out of ten
Darr @ the Mall gets a very solid score from me. It held my attention and genuinely had me at a loss for what to expect next, solely because I didn’t know what it was going to be. It disregarded standard practice of horror structure to set up what it knew it would take to build the haunted atmosphere, and by stealing from Jaws just a little bit, it did it in an entertaining way. There’s a reason we spend so much time alone with Vishnu in the mall at the beginning, before heading into full on supernatural-slasher mode picking off the members of a group. It connects us with him because we both know more than the others, and are finding out even more together. We’re together with him on this journey. For the most part. Sometimes there’s a dance sequence. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Amelia: Six and a half nuns out of ten
Like I said above, Darr @ the Mall is not the best, most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen. There’s a lot happening in this movie that kind of messes up the pacing, and messed up pacing in horror usually means a decrease in atmosphere/spooks. There’s also the Bollywood tropes included in any genre film that comes out of India that may confuse or frustrate viewers not used to non-American filmmaking. But, despite a few pitfalls, Darr @ the Mall is still a pretty entertaining ghost story about revenge set against the capitalist veneer of a country unfamiliar to Western audiences.